Authors: Maria Boyd
I had resigned myself to spending the whole weekend hanging out at home. The only other real option was the Holden House of Chaos, but Chris and the Holdo boys had gone away on one of their father and sons camping love-ins. I had scored an invite—I always did, and I usually went. Due to a lack of siblings, I liked being a Holden ring-in, especially when it meant I had a legitimate right to beat up the twins, but this was the first one since … well … this year and I didn’t feel like it.
Will, are you ready?
Mum was at my door; faded purple overalls, bad paisley gardening hat, two pairs of gloves, mud-covered boots and one of the happiest faces I’d seen on her in a long time.
Come on, the soil is just about damp enough
I tried hard to look enthusiastic. But being enthusiastic about having to put down your guitar and get off your bed to go and work in the garden with your mother on a Saturday afternoon is a very big call.
I grabbed the bad granddad type fishing hat Chris and I had bought as a joke in some ancient servo we’d rolled into on a previous Holden road trip, and followed Mum out the back door. The backyard was a decent size, decent enough for a pool, something I’d reminded Mum and Dad of every day of the summer holidays since
I first made it into Tadpoles at the local pool. They were dead against it. Said it was a
when it only took us thirty minutes to drive to the beach. That didn’t mean, however, that the backyard escaped being an Armstrong Family Project.
Ever since I could remember there had always been a big stretch of untouched grass right along the back fence. Mum and Dad always went on about how perfect it would be for a veggie patch. In seventeen years they’d never got around to it. That was until one day earlier this year when Mum came out dressed in exactly the same gear she had on today. That time she didn’t stop at my door to ask for help; she walked straight out to the back shed, grabbed a spade and a scary-looking pitchfork and got started. Mum’s not that big, and even though she’s a yoga-head and looks pretty young for forty-seven, she’s not exactly a teenager, but none of that counted because, man, she made a huge mess. Normally she would have been really careful about cutting up the turf and stuff, but that time she didn’t care. She just kept hacking. Whenever I offered to help she smiled, shook her head and took another swing. She kept going every afternoon for three weeks, until there was no green anywhere in sight. It was just brown dirt turned over and over, like it had been ripped apart by mini explosives.
I had thought that was going to be the first Patricia Armstrong Solo Project but I was wrong. One night Mum came and sat on my bed and talked about launching the first Armstrong Mother and Son Project. All that digging must have done something good because it was the first time in a long time her eyes had come alive. There was no way I could refuse.
After the hacking came the fertilizing. This is where I got to be involved. We put in a whole pile of manure that smelled worse than anything Jock and Tim combined could produce, which was saying
something, and waited until it didn’t stink so much. Then last night Mum finally announced we’d made it to the planting stage and if I didn’t have anything on, tomorrow would be the perfect day to get started. So here we were, just me, Mum and a whole lot of cow shit.
How has your week been?
It was no surprise that as soon as we got down to work Mum started firing questions. That’s how she operates. It’s all about sharing quality time together, and quality time in Mum’s world means she asks the questions and I answer.
Um … Yeah, good
My gut constricted. If I didn’t play this right my hands weren’t going to be the only part of me to be in shit this weekend. It could have been the perfect time to spill it all but I figured, why spoil the weekend when the next hundred were going to be hell? Then again, maybe it was better to tell her myself before Waddlehead had a go. Knowing Mum, she’d rate the fact I’d fessed up before someone else had to do it for me. But that would mean I’d have to spend the next thirty-something hours watching Mum look like crap again.
Bloody Danielli, he knew that giving me the
you can tell her before we do
option was going to mess with my head all weekend.
I watched Mum as she dug a small hole in the soil. She extended her hand, indicating for me to pass the tomato plant. She then gently shook off any excess dirt and carefully placed the seedling in the ground, making sure all the roots were where they should be. She’d swung into a gentle, soothing rhythm.
My gut constricted again. I couldn’t. I wanted to but I couldn’t.
. I shoved another plant in her direction.
She’d been edging along the ground like a crab. At this point she looked up, smiling, trying to blow away the hair that had fallen into her eyes without using a muddy glove.
So! What did she mean, so? So I could be chucked out of St. Andrew’s forever, and here’s another tomato plant. So had Danielli changed the rules and secretly rung Mum and they were both waiting to see if I would confess?
I turned and pretended to look for another plant, feeling my face redden with every second.
Her eyes were lasering holes into my back.
What was good about it?
The week, that’s what she was asking about! Idiot! I could feel my guilty blush, something that had given me grief since the time I learned how to lie, wash away with relief.
I don’t know. The same as usual, I suppose
She looked at me for a long moment, spade in one hand and baby tomato plant in the other, then sighed.
Are you going out tonight?
she asked after she’d planted the next seedling.
I’ll probably head over to Tim’s later…. The boys are planning a big night
A Lakeside girl was meant to be having a party, some girl Tim was convinced was into him because she happened to say sorry when she stuck her artwork into his backside on the bus. I pointed out that her response was called everyday politeness. Tim, however, was certain that she wanted him, especially his backside.
. Mum nodded.
. And she returned to the digging, shaking, planting, patting.
She stopped suddenly and looked at me again, her face a strange combination of a frown and a tight-lipped smile.
How big a night?
I grinned back.
Relax, Mum, you can trust me
. She rolled her eyes and returned to her plants. We had both found our place again and for the moment everything was as it should be.
It turned out I didn’t go over to Tim’s place after all. No real reason, but I figured I’d seen Jock and Tim make idiots of themselves plenty of times before so I wasn’t missing out on much. Hanging out at home was pretty usual for me these days, so Mum didn’t pick anything up on her maternal radar as she usually would have when there was drama in the air. Anyway, I reckon she liked having me kicking around the house.
Mum looked pretty happy with herself after our quality time in the veggie patch. She always loved a project, especially anything to do with the house. That was her thing, the house. Well, if I was really honest, it wasn’t just her thing, it was her and Dad’s thing. You couldn’t separate the three of them. It was like the house was another member of the family.
They bought this place the same year I was born, and it definitely needed a lot of love. It was a dump! But that’s what they wanted. They were into DIY way before it was on telly every night of the week. They wouldn’t go anywhere near IKEA or Freedom, though, like normal people did. Oh no, the Armstrong family had to get up at the crack of dawn every weekend and go to garage sales, junkyards, smelly old nana stores and freaky run-down warehouses. They would spend hundreds of hours happily trawling through crap, dirty crap, and get really excited when they found something that no one in their right mind would even touch. Then they’d spend what
was left of the weekend and every weekend after that getting whatever piece of junk they’d found back to how it was originally. It seemed like a huge waste of time to me. So I’d point out that we were in the twenty-first century in case they’d missed it and they’d both smile as if I was the idiot and keep sandpapering the latest 1850s table they’d scored from somebody’s skip.
Stuff was different now, though, weekends were different. There was no junk in the backyard, and no Armstrong projects. Except for the veggie patch.
Which was how Mum spent most of Sunday morning, staring at the veggie patch over her pot of tea. Then she flicked through the weekend papers. That was weird. Before, she’d never allow them through the front door. She’d carry on that they were a journalistic disgrace and full of trash. Dad reckoned that was exactly the reason why you should buy them. They would sit at opposite ends of the kitchen table and throw smart-arse comments back and forth at one another that I had to dodge every time I went to the fridge. Now Mum’d actually go and buy the papers, sit down at the table in the same position and mutter as she flicked through them. I told her she sounded like a madwoman and she told me to get used to it because it was going to get worse with age.
Sunday nights always make you feel sick in the gut. It’s that time when you remember all the crap for school that you haven’t done over the weekend and are too tired to do now, which means you know you’re going to get in trouble for it tomorrow. Or in my case, the fact that I had had all weekend to tell Mum everything before it hit the fan, but I hadn’t.
But that’s how the
you can decide whether you tell your parents
thing works. The whole time it sits in your belly reminding you that there’s something you have to do. Then you go and catch up with
the boys, kick the soccer ball around, hang out in your room messing with chords on the guitar, and you forget. But then you hear your mum singing in the kitchen, happy after working in the garden all day, or you watch her settle back with a glass of wine and a chick flick and that’s when it hits. It comes up from your gut and sits in your mouth like you want to vomit it all out. Then you see that she’s dressed in her home trackies she’d never be caught dead in anywhere else, lying on the couch laughing at the telly, and you know you can’t. You just can’t. So you walk back to your room and decide that, like most things lately, it’s better to swallow and pretend that it’s gone away.
Even though I knew it was all going to hit the fan with Waddlehead and Danielli this afternoon, I was more than happy to be entering the grounds of St. Andrew’s. This was a Mum-Free Zone, which translated into a guilt-free, end-of-guts-churning zone. No, I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty tonight, but at least for the moment I had escaped.
I walked past the bloke I winked at on Friday afternoon. He was the main man of the brothers, that’s why his statue was stuck right where everyone could see it. The front of the school looked old, like one of those posh English boarding schools. Lots of sandstone and gardens, with a bell tower on the main building that made sure everyone in the area knew how important the place was. But it was the only building like that. The rest of the school was brick and concrete, and then farther back, so no one could see them, they stuck the demountable schoolrooms. That’s exactly what St. Andrew’s was like. It thought it was a cut above the rest, but when you really got down to it, it was just the same as any other school except that it was majorly strict, and the gates that kept us in were fancy gates.
I could hear the senior quad before I got within thirty meters of it. If someone came up with a way to take the sound from boys schools and make it into fuel, they would be a trillionaire and everyone could stop freaking out about the world’s energy crisis.
I walked past the canteen and swung into the quad to find a full-scale handball competition in progress between Years 11 and 12. No doubt the brainchild of Tim and Jock, who have not yet come to terms with the fact that with the passing of every year they are moving away from childhood. They spend most of their energy trying to keep themselves at twelve.
No way that was out, man! I’m not going anywhere!
Jock looked around for someone to acknowledge his cries of injustice and found me.
Willo! My hero!
At which point he knelt down in his square, careful not to lose his position, and bowed.
Get up, you wanker. This is all your fault
No way, mate, don’t you go blaming me. I only offered five bucks. I didn’t think even you’d be that cheap
At this point the other boys joined in.
Nice arse, Will! How about you and me make a date for the toilets at lunchtime?
That was Tim—he always made it his job to push things too far. The other boys followed.
You’d want to be careful the boys on Oxford Street don’t track you down
Well, it wasn’t as if the Lakeside girls were exactly throwing their phone numbers out the window
Yeah, but I heard they were throwing up!
At this point they were falling into one another they were laughing so hard. I walked away to dump my bag to the sound of their triumphant hand-slapping, shaking my head as I went.
This was exactly how it had been for the past four years. The
usual piss-taking and shaking of hands that greeted every morning. This was what I knew. This was where I belonged.
I came over and took my place on the line. Jock was still refusing to get out and no amount of yelling from the other blokes was going to shift him. Eventually the game started again. The St. Andrew’s boys were a mixed crew, the seniors even more so because we had blow-ins from other schools for Years 11 and 12. It was one of the selling points in the glossy brochure the school tried to flog every year:
St. Andrew’s, a college that celebrates diversity
or some such crap. And it was crap because most of the time all they ever went on about was making sure we all looked and acted the same.